Review of Dr. Peter Stine, PhD, U.C. Berkeley, Professor of English at South Carolina State U., Wayne State U., U. of Michigan;
I finished All the Difference, and what a fine memoir it is! I found it totally engrossing. The opening swept me in. I can imagine the pain your mother felt, you felt, and then the contrasting personality of your father, that swimming lesson he gave you, wow. It is so rich in episode, and in particular the chapter describing your shooting the crabs and beautiful bird, your remorse, and Ruthie’s gentle instruction in the holiness of all creatures, even the Golden Garden Spider, struck me. Or your discovery of the sanctity of nature’ beauty on your travels, or of baseball. The writing is lucid and concrete and engaging, you are on your way. Your story that begins in a military family split by divorce and ends with you emerging as a brilliant ACLU lawyer in California is quite remarkable and riveted me for days.
The section on Yokohama I loved, and Eddie is a great glimpse of raw American energy. Your portraits of scrappy uneducated types are consistently strong. Your account of cultural awakening is very well done, a great chapter, especially your discovery that the Japanese were individual beings physically and mentally, that our racist stereotype of them was nothing more. Strong descriptions of nature in your trips with Alex. Your sexual initiation in Yokosuka is cool. I liked the sports here, and Tom’s converting you to fundamentalist Christianity. Good on your religious inquires and the skepticism offered by Jerry’s dad, since the memoir is a long tale of deconversion, overthrowing indoctrination. Your brush with death in the train tunnel was excruciatingly real.
The Civil Rights history delivered by the professor on the Sunset Limited is a bit undigested in the narrative, but probably necessary to educate the reader to the world you will be entering. I admired your gutsy, principled withdrawal from NROTC at Duke, again a dramatic self-definition. Good on learning the brutality of the Old Testament God; it brought to mind Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature. A great account of your religious bible classes and new agnosticism. That freshman Dean of Students calling you a low IQ case is amazing. Your evolving shift from Duke to the Naval Academy is traced in subtle detail, and your account of that Plebe year fascinated and shocked me. Standing up to the two bullying upperclassmen over Civil Rights and then the great portrait of Joe Duff are superb. Dan, you are at your best when, against the odds, you courageously stand up to arrogant and abusive authority figures, whether Duff, the Folsom prison molester, or the landlord threatening his tenant – these moments sparkle, the portrait of malice is stark, your own moral principles manifest.
It is harrowing to read of your experience as an aviator on an AR5C, and I remember your telling me about the lethal risks involved in the late 1960s. It was fun to read about your time at Berkeley then, Jerry, your well-described acid trip, Delaware Street, etc. The conclusion of the memoir about your amazing legal work for the UFW, ACLU, your alliance with Jerry, life with Joan, all of it was interesting, totally engrossing. Finally, I noticed throughout the last third of the memoir you labeled the Vietnam War as genocidal, which is exactly right. Thanks for the opportunity to read your terrific book.
(Peter Stine is also the founder and editor of literary journal Witness,1987-2007, awarded eight grants from National Endowment For The Arts, and four volumes were reissued as books by university press; his fiction, poetry, literary essays and journalism are widely published:The Iowa Review, Boulevard,The Threepenny Review, Contemporary Literature,The Cambridge Quarterly,The New York Times, Sport Literate, and Harold Bloom's Modern Critical Reviews. His latest book,The Art of Survival, contains essays on Isaac Babel, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, and Joseph Conrad, ISBN 978-0-9823319-3-4, by Rocky Shore Books, Marquette Mi, 2011)
All the Difference may be purchased from Amazon.com: